Doctor Who: Fugitive of the Judoon

"You can get excited now."

There are going to be spoilers after the jump. Lots and lots of spoilers. Honestly, they're going to get all over everything. Please be warned and take appropriate actions, because regardless of a few things we'll talk about in a moment, this one really deserves to be seen without having it spoiled for you...

...And then you can get all mad about it afterward. But please, only if you're mad for a legitimate reason.

OK, so before we get all spoiler-y, let's have a quick talk about subjective and objective criticism. There's a difference between criticizing something for what it is and criticizing something for how it is what it is, if that makes sense. An example from my own life; today I was talking with a good friend of mine about the season so far. She voiced the opinion that she was sick and tired of the episodes being on Earth and ending with a heavy-handed moralistic speech.

Now, this is a perfectly valid criticism, and I've certainly heard it from other people as well, but it's important to be aware that it's a subjective criticism. That is to say, she wasn't making the case that earthbound stories with long didactic speeches at the end are intrinsically bad in and of themselves, she was saying that she doesn't like them. Subjective criticism is rooted in your own personal preferences and biases. (That's 'biases' in the morally neutral sense.) Objective criticism, on the other hand, is theoretically rooted in some sort of externally measurable criteria. So, to take a contentious example, if I argue that Jodie Whittaker is a bad Doctor because the Doctor shouldn't be a woman, that would be a subjective criticism. It's based on what I believe the program should be, rather than the quality of any specific aspect of its production. If I argue that Jodie Whittaker is a bad Doctor because the scripts haven't served her well, or that her performance has been bad in some tangible way, then that would be an objective criticism.

It would also be wrong, for what it's worth, but that's not relevant to the point I'm making here.

Now, here's the thing that tends to trip people up. Neither subjective not objective criticism is intrinsically wrong in and of themselves. If you think that a woman shouldn't be the Doctor and you're up front with both yourself and the internet about it, then that's your subjective opinion and that's perfectly fine. You are totally allowed to think that. You're wrong and I wish you'd spend less time on Twitter, but you're allowed to think it. The problem is that people have a bad habit of trying to dress their subjective opinions up as if they were objective ones in order to make them seem more valid.

I bring this up regarding this week's episode, because there's a big twist here, and when you respond to an episode with a big twist in it you're really responding to two similar but slightly different questions. The first is 'does what the twist is work for me?', and the second is 'does the way they executed the twist work for me?' The first question is largely subjective, the second largely objective, and it's terribly easy to conflate the two. Especially when you're deeply invested in convincing strangers on the internet that you're right.

So let's take the two questions in order. Does the twist itself work. Well, the twist is that we're introduced to what appears to be a side character who is revealed to be an incarnation of the Doctor whom we've never met before and who logically can't possibly exist. Neither Doctor remembers having been the other, and both have pretty strong rationale for why they couldn't come before the other. Obviously we're meant to be confused by this at this point, so let's all acknowledge that 'it doesn't work because it doesn't make sense' isn't an objective criticism for the moment. It's designed to not make sense yet. That's a feature, not a flaw. If it's a feature that doesn't work for you, that's fair. Personally I thought it worked really well because they really went for it. They definitively set out that Ruth is the Doctor. They definitively set out why that should be impossible. There was nothing half-hearted about this plot, and that made it work for me. Your mileage may vary.

As to how the twist was executed, I think this might be the most disciplined script we've seen of the Chibnall era in terms of structure. Which is interesting, because it's taken what is usually my main complaint about Chibnall era plots – that they all feel a bit like rehashing of earlier stories – and made that the strength of their approach here. This is nothing so much as 'What if 'Smith and Jones,' but also 'Human Nature?' and the two stories resonate together surprisingly well. The relatively fluffy Judoon-looking-for-a-fugitive plot starting to unravel about twenty minutes in and revealing the more serious issues that were lurking underneath.

It's all quite well paced, with plenty of clues as to what's really going on to be seen once you know what's really going on. This rewards a second or third viewing in a way that, for example, 'Orphan 55' doesn't particularly. Interestingly, the character that benefits most from a re-viewing is Lee, who essentially makes exactly the same decisions as Martha did back when this was happening to her, but because we don't have any context for his actions he just looks like a gigantic tool making one stupid choice after another, when what he's really doing is trusting the Doctor. Of particular note once we understand the situation is Lee's relationship with Alan. Lee obviously can't explain to Alan why a relationship with Ruth isn't ever going to happen, so all he can do is sit politely and take what appears to be a never-ending stream of abuse from the guy. Again, the comparison between Martha and Lee is kind of fascinating

I suspect a big part of whether the reveal of Ruth-as-the-Doctor works for you is how you feel about Jo Martin's performance. Personally, I thought she absolutely nailed it. Loved her attitude, loved her costume, loved the way she instantly tried to accept Jodie's Doctor as her new companion, hand holding and all. I even loved the design of her TARDIS. And giving her opponent a weapon rigged to fire out the back and begging her not to fire it is possibly the most Doctor-ish solution ever. Her performance as Ruth was just enough of an echo of David Tennant's performance as John Smith that it all sings on a second viewing, but it's enough of her own thing to not feel like mimicry. I just can't say enough good things about Jo Martin this week. If David Tennant had said the line about bullies always having a weakness, we'd all already own it printed on a t-shirt. Once they've cleared up that they're both the Doctor, she and Jodie have definite Pertwee/Troughton vibes in their interaction, and that's pretty high praise.

And then there was the dramatic reappearance of Captain Jack. It was great to see him, although he seemed mostly relegated to providing some info that we'll need later in the season. There's a big war with the Cybermen later. An alliance sent a 'thing' back across time and space to prevent them from winning. Who the Alliance is or what the 'thing' is we're not told, but I notice there were a lot of hexagons in that ship design. It has to all have something to do with the Timelords, The Timeless Child, and whatever the Master was all upset about, doesn't it? My personal guess is that Ruth/Doctor is somehow an alternate or parallel reality version of 'our' Doctor, which lets me believe that Sacha Dhawan's Master isn't precisely 'ours' either. Time will tell, of course.

The only real complaint that I have about this one is that specifically designing an episode to reward re-viewing can often result in the first viewing feeling confused and disjointed, which was certainly the case here. Whether or not that's worth it is somewhat subjective.



Bits:

-- Sifting the evidence, Lee is clearly a Gallifreyan, if not a Time Lord. Note the derisive way he says 'Humans' at one point to Alan, and that he and Gat have identical training. This makes him sort of gender flipped Romana. I liked that.

-- All of the Lee as Martha stuff played really well as the show misdirecting us to think Lee was the Fugitive. It's a misdirect of a misdirect. Clever.

-- The Doctor hiding out as a tour guide feels so very right.

-- They cut to Ruth immediately almost every time someone else discusses the Doctor. Clever.

-- So, once she's got her memories back, how does Ruth/Doctor feel about Lee? She doesn't seem overly bothered that he's dead anymore. Of course, some of the Doctors were stoic as hell when there was work to be done. Perhaps she waited to cry for him until after 'our' Doctor left.

-- It's a nice choice that the Doctor isn't hiding what was going on with the Master from her friends, but is willing to draw boundaries on personal information she isn't willing to share. That's a much healthier way to behave.

-- Was that a callout to Attack the Block? I think it was.

-- Jack's words to Graham over the speaker were enough like his words to Rose in 'The Empty Child' that it had to be deliberate.

-- It's a little too bad that, due to circumstances, they couldn't let John Barrowman play Jack with his natural now-grey hair.

-- The transmat beam was a nice effect. It was different than we've seen before.

-- Assuming that the memories of Ruth's parents were all fabricated – and the TARDIS being in one of their graves kind of indicates that they are – it's interesting that she fabricated memories of parents she didn't like. What does that say about her?

-- It's a nice and subtle touch that Jodie-Doctor first seems suspicious of Ruth's true nature when they've gone back to Ruth's old home and it's trashed. We just learned that she'd been doing the exact same thing when the companions weren't around. Nice parallel.

-- The ending of the episode, with Doctor and Fam prevented from following up on events by the TARDIS openly distracting them with something else to do first is kind of the end of 'Day of the Moon,' but done well.

-- Lee recognizes that 'our' Doctor is the smartest one in the room by looking into her eyes. Of course he does, he looks into the Doctor's eyes all the time. Naturally he'd recognize that, even if he didn't understand it.

Love. Her. Outfit.  I mean, the buttons alone...
Quotes:

Ruth: "OK, In 1216 the cathedral hosted the coronation of King Henry the Third. And he was only nine at the time."
Girl: (Withering glare)
Ruth: "They filmed Harry Potter here, too."
Girl: "Ooo!"

Alan: "They don't call me All Ears Alan for nothing."
Ruth: "It's not a nickname if you give it to yourself, is it?"

Graham: "I thought you said they were the police?"
The Doctor: "Trigger happy police."

Lee: "What is the matter with you? Why don't you let it go?"
Alan: "D'you want to take this outside?"
Lee: "Stop asking me that every time I come in for a latte."

Judoon: "Negative. Mission must be fulfilled by the contracted troop. Judoon engagement article 163-B."
The Doctor: "That article is overridden by Local Earth Law... Twelve."

The Doctor: "Doesn't time fly when you don't have all the answers."

Gat: "Faithful companion. Do I have to spell it out for you?"

Jack: "Oh, she likes them mouthy then, huh?"
Ryan: "Yeah, one up from cheesy."
Jack: "OK, he's my favorite."

Ruth/Doctor: "Is there even a word for how dumb you are?"
The Doctor: "'Doctor'?"



A great episode on revisiting, a little confusing and unfocused on first watch. I really hope we see lots and lots of Jo Martin's Doctor in the future, because I adored her.

Eleven out of thirteen Doctors. Although I'm sure a lot of people out there would rate it lower. Some of them even for valid reasons.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, volunteer firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla.

16 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Loved it. Loved. It. I've been putting off watching episodes this season but when I got spoiled about who was in it, I couldn't watch it fast enough. And to make that clear, I'm talking about JACK. I liked alt-Doctor Ruth a lot -- is that supposed to be a joke? Doctor Ruth as in Westheimer? but can I make it clear that I want JACK? I want more Jack, and I want him now.

John Barrowman looked like he'd stopped filming his last Who yesterday, didn't he? He didn't look at all like he'd aged, which Jack can't do anyway.

And this alternative version of the Doctor is interesting. I'm finally on board for this season.

Mikey Heinrich said...

I can't believe I didn't notice the Doctor Ruth joke possibility.

I'm seriously judging myself right now.

Billie Doux said...

Mikey, LOL. :)

franni1 said...

Loved it! The quantity of shrieking here at the sight if both Captain Jack AND the West Usk Lighthouse - we stayed there about ten years ago with our spaniels. It.s a beautifully eccentric B&B and the owners Frank and his wife had their own dalek so as dedicated Who fans very happy the Lighthouse got to play a role.

I would love to see more of Doctor Ruth, A side series is definitely called for m

Mikey Heinrich said...

Now I want to go stay there more than anything

sunbunny said...

This felt like three different episodes, two of which meshed very well together (the Judoon and Doctor Ruth), and one that did not. I used to love Jack, I did, but his character has not aged well in a post-#MeToo era. Especially because in his first appearance he straddles an incapacitated Graham on the floor and kisses him. Jack! Boundaries! Even if he did think he was the Doctor, that's not an okay thing to do. Although the fact that he liked the gray in Graham's hair made me think how he would have fawned over Twelve.

Okay onto the meat of the episode, I liked it. I like that I am confused. In his work on Broadchurch, Chibnall proved he is absolutely capable of managing a complex season-long arc and I'm SO glad he's trying it. Although I wish we'd just stick with one thing, now that I think about it. This season has A LOT going on so far. A new Master, a new, additional Doctor, a war with the Cybermen, and Jack Harkness. That's a lot. I really hope it all connects in a meaningful way. Okay so Jo Martin OBVIOUSLY rocked it and I definitely wouldn't mind seeing her as Fourteen, if that's where the story goes. And if it doesn't, I demand to get much more of her this season. Not to be mean, but she felt more Doctory in one episode than Jodie's ever felt. Jodie's...awfully cuddly. She doesn't have that "sliver of ice in [her] heart" that the rest of the Doctors had. I love Jodie Whittaker, I think she's a brilliant actress and she's fun to watch as the Doctor but she does often feel like she's on Doctor Who Junior.

A big yes to Doctor Ruth's costuming and Tardis interior. I like that they've added those hexagon step things in "our" Tardis but it's still (by far) my least favorite console room of all time. It's so funny you thought Doctor Ruth was so reminiscent of Ten, I was thinking much more of Eleven. Especially when Thirteen was all "the Doctor doesn't use guns!" and Doctor Ruth was all "I know, shut up!"

I really want to know Lee's story. Weird that Doctor Ruth didn't recognize a sonic screwdriver. I think that really lends credence to the whole alternate time line theory because even Classic Who Doctors had the sonic.

All in all, I'm confused, pleased that I'm confused, and a bit grumpy with the Jack scenes (sorry Billie). I haven't revisited the episode yet but I think I will tonight.

Michal Dvorak said...

I think the idea of the big twist was great, but the execution felt off somehow. Shouldn't the Doctor(s) be a lot more curious about how come neither one remembers the other? They could have compared memories, see which incarnations each one can remember, or which events. That wouldn't necessarily give them the answer, but at least it would have provided some clues. But instead they go:
- "I can't remember being you."
- "I can't remember being you either."
- "Oh, well."

That seemed really weird and out of character to me.

Ida said...

We can all agree that Lee is the Master for the Ruth!Doctor, right? Right?

The thing that struck me back in episode 2, (don't remember the exact quote), is that Master said something about "what they did to us". And my immediate reaction was that he meant it in a "what they did to explicitly you and me". And _that_ definitely feels connected to this episode.

As much as I love Jack, I could have done without the ominous cyberman reference at the end, that is starting to feel like too many directions the series is pulled into, it could work, but perhaps in not in this episode that was already packed full. And I really am tired of these companions. If they weren't around, they only thing that would be different is the Doctor snapping at them would go away (which, admittedly, quite precious), but otherwise the series would remain the same. They haven't done anything interesting in quite a while.

But, oh, everything else about this episode was fantastic.

@Michael, there could be rules about that sort of things, it's bad enough meeting your past/future self, learning the specifics of their life is worse. Plus, I have a feeling that Ruth is neither present nor future version, but a separate entity entirely.

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

This was the best episode so far of Chibnall's tenure, but it also makes me very worried. I hope he can pull things off without messing up the canon too much. Playing with it a little is fine (like the War Doctor), but please don't blow it to smithereens.

I'm wondering if Doctor!Ruth has something to do with Jack saying "the Alliance sent this thing backward through time, across space". Perhaps the "thing" was the Timeless Child, a copy of the Doctor with a purpose. And I agree with Ida that the Master's "What they did to us" could play into things. The Doctor's been copied before - Meta-Crisis, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, the billions of versions in Heaven Sent, even Jenny in a way. What if the Time Lords copied the Doctor early on? (Since Ruth didn't recognize the sonic - though we know they can erase memories, so it could have been at any point.) And the copy regenerated into a young Ruth? Missy knew the Doctor as a little girl. And given Ruth's "harder" nature it could have been a manipulated regeneration like the War Doctor.

I loved the twistiness of the Moffat era, so I actually love all of the possibilities. Though series 11 taught me not to trust Chibnall, so I do hope things actually play out in a way I'll enjoy.

I enjoyed Doctor!Ruth. She has a fire that Jodie is lacking. Her showing up out of nowhere with a gun reminds me a lot of the Mels version of River Song. I do think it was weird that she basically kicked Thirteen out of her TARDIS without trying to figure out what was going on. It doesn't match up with how other Doctors have handled meeting versions of themselves either. Which makes me think there is something "different" about Ruth. It's not as simple as a future or a forgotten past Doctor. If Ruth was simply a future version, Thirteen should have forgotten her and the events until she was Ruth and met herself, like the Doctor not remembering everything around The Day of the Doctor until Eleven caught up to the events.

The Captain Jack bits were awesome. I am so glad I wasn't spoiled on his return. I heard his voice and got so excited! His first episodes were the ones that cause me to fall in love with Doctor Who. I'm really hoping it's lies and misdirection about him not returning for the rest of series 12. He shouldn't have needed to redecorate his house (his excuse for being in Cardiff) for only one day of filming, right?

sunbunny said...

If the Time Lords did create Ruth maybe that's why she has the memory of hating her parents? Reality bleeding into false memories?

Mikey Heinrich said...

Ooo, sunbunny, I really like that explanation

Can we all agree now that Doctor!Ruth is her official designation? Because I love it

Anomaly21 said...

Spoiler/overlong comment warning;
Just my personal opinion, but i wasn't at all convinced by Jo Martin's performance. The initial oddly chirpy intro to her/ others,'from the top i'm doc w'tardis' scenes, how dumb are you, sabotaging the gun then just saying 'no!' when it vaporises (not even just regens!) Gat and denying responsibility to 13, not reacting to/worrying about Lee's dissapearence/likely death, not being confused at Alan's stalker dossier/weird cake, violently beating up and maiming the judoon/ripping off horn etc, yet another female Doctor who doesn't mention/enjoy her new body at all, calling the TARDIS a ship/acting like it's just a machine 'get off my ship now' plus it both inside and out looking like a fan imitation of Hartnell's, not investigating 13/ their past- i'm glad everyone's enjoying the reveal of a new Doc(the genuine article not alternate according to a Chibnall interview) but just frustrated /confused that literally EVERY ONE even unhappy fans seem to agree on liking her performance! Just me?
So far i've found Jodie's performance as the Doc weak- she's had a lot of good moments/ dialogue(Woman Fell Earth,Rosa, Tsuranga,Punjab,Witchfinders, Takes You Away)but often found her 'comedic' babbling and sometimes petty/nagging attitude eh. But at least i can recognize she's supposed to be the Doctor-and Capaldi's s9/8 writing, Mccoy's 'chessmaster', Davison's quietness, Pertwee's lecturing, Troughton's goofiness stuck, but personally i've liked every Doctor(even Hurt/Valeyard), so to have trouble with Jodie only for everyone to prefer Jo Martin who to me doesn't resemble the Doctor at all...

As for the rest of this episode- what happened? The others Lee/ Alan/Gat were shifty then dealt with'forgotten,Judoon were completely unnecessary and dumber than before(invading a busy Earth town not neutral territory, speaking 'Human' not English, being repeatedly fooled by the Doc/companions's lies etc).
And it was great to see Jack again(surprised how easily Barrowman acted/looked the part after so long!), he was also unnecessary and practically separate to this episode; this story just felt like a Frankenstein of Utopia/Smith and Jones/Let's Kill Hitler.

What about series 12, though? A new Master(cast from a former Who appearance/big fan like Capaldi/Colin etc seems to work lol, glad they found a good successor to Missy/Simm's great takes! Now if only Eric Roberts's was more popular...), a James Bond/Bells Saint John/Rise Of The Cybermen patchwork, a silly eco-friendly tour/lecture and a single solid historical with Tesla/Racnoss-type scavengers/ Edison. Yet this and Fugitive's empty 'plot' are preferred to the whole varied series 11?
So for me this was probably the worst episode of modern Who. I actually like Fear Her/Tsuranga/ Rosa/New Earth/Dalek Manhattan and don't mind Boom Town/Sleep No More/Widow Wardrobe despite their controversy; my other worst would probably be Listen/Ranskoor/Into Dalek/Forest Night/Arachnids /Planet Ood/Zygon Inversion/Cold War, but at least all those had more happening and their own ingredients.
So don't really care where Jo Martin fits either as a previous Doctor or no.14; i'm honestly not sure anything would ever stop me watching and loving Doctor Who! I wish people wouldn't repeatedly nag others for stopping watching/ label them 'negative' though; series 9 nearly made me stop and a Jo Martin series might manage it, but that doesn't make my or anyone else's love for Who invalid surely? Oh, and there is one upside to all this controversy- it's got all the fans debating Who again :)

Anomaly21 said...

Sorry hope my previous comment is readable, the spaces in the top half seems to have come out as a wall of text :/

And just wanted to say thanks for both your current reviews and helpful coverage of the classic series; the expertise on Who/ quotes and notes/other comments really helped me get my own feelings/thoughts straight and enjoy the episodes all over again!

Billie Doux said...

Anomaly21, you're very welcome. :)

Anomaly21 said...

Thanks Billie Doux, looking forward to Praxeus!

Nonei said...

Just re-watched this with my dtr, and realized in hindsight that the first few seconds of the ep was a huge clue - close up of a watch (a la John Smith), and with tardis blue hands besides